Harris & Lewis: The Best Things to Do

Hushinish Harris

Harris & Lewis

Harris and Lewis is actually one large landmass, but the landscapes in each northern and southern region are so distinct that it’s regarded as being two separate islands.

This unique island is the largest in Scotland and has some of the most beautiful scenery, comprising a mix of mountainous peaks, beautiful white sand beaches, and wide sweeping plains of moorland.

Of the two ‘islands’, Harris (in my opinion) is the prettiest, mainly due to its stunning beaches and crystal clear waters that are reminiscent of a far-flung tropical paradise.

While its northern side is mountainous (the highest peak, Clisham, is 2,621 feet/799 metres high) it has a much flatter southern region, with a wild and rugged eastern coastline and those fabulous beaches on the western side.

Luskentyre beach

Lewis, on the other hand, is much flatter with expansive peat bogs, hundreds of freshwater lochans, and sheer-sided cliffs, especially around the northernmost areas like the Butt of Lewis. The main town is Stornoway (the largest town in the entire Hebrides) which offers a blend of traditional Gaelic culture and modern amenities.

Highlights of a visit to Stornoway include seeing the fascinating Museum nan Eilean at Lews Castle and exploring the bustling harbour, as well as wandering through the high street and eating delicious fresh-caught seafood at one of the town’s many restaurants.

The Isle of Harris, meanwhile, is far less populated than Lewis and therefore has smaller settlements, the main ones being Tarbert and Leverburgh.

Tarbert, the main village, is known for the Harris Tweed Shop and the Harris Distillery, while Leverburgh is the location of the ferry terminal that provides access to North Uist and the rest of the archipelago.

Wildlife thrives in the diverse habitats offered by Harris and Lewis. Red deer can be seen on the moorlands (there are around 4,000 of them roaming across the islands), while seals and otters can often be spotted along the coastline.

Isle of Harris

The islands are also a birdwatcher’s paradise and are home to a wide range of species including golden eagles, sea eagles, puffins, and corncrakes.

Recommended birdwatching locations are the large areas of machair near the coasts of both islands which are unique habitats found only in the northwest of Scotland and Ireland. This beautiful but fragile environment blooms with wildflowers in summer which in turn attracts a multitude of birds and insects.

Tourist attractions on Harris and Lewis, meanwhile, are plentiful, but the highlights include the Callanish Standing Stones on Lewis (stone circles dating back to around 2900 BC), and the beaches of Luskentyre and Scarista on Harris which offer enormous stretches of sand set against a mountainous backdrop.

For those interested in Scottish heritage, the traditional blackhouses at Gearrannan and Arnol provide a glimpse into the island’s past, as does the museum at Lews Castle in Stornoway.

Find places to visit and things to do on Harris & Lewis with these visitor guides.

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